Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Drones are interfering with efforts to fight Utah wildfires; special session called to address issue

Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert called a special session for today "to pass emergency legislation to punish drone pilots flying over wildfires," Robert Gehrke reports for The Salt Lake Tribune. "This past weekend, drone traffic hampered firefighting efforts on the Saddle Fire in southwestern Utah, grounding air tankers until the airspace was cleared to avoid collisions. The Legislature passed a law making it illegal to fly in areas restricted due to firefighting efforts, but the legislation to be considered this week will stiffen the penalties and possibly allow the fire commander to take down drones in the area." (Deseret News photo: Utah wildfire)

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Don Ipson (R-St. George), said technology is available to jam the signal to drones and force them to crash, Gehrke writes. He told Gehrke, "This summer, wildfires in the state have become significantly worse due to drones interrupting air operations. It is dangerous and completely unacceptable, and this legislation takes steps to ensure that our emergency management personnel are safe and empowered to do their jobs effectively."

Gehrke writes, "A measure passed earlier this year makes it a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if a drone causes a firefighting air tanker to crash, a third-degree felony if a drone collides with a firefighting aircraft, a class A misdemeanor if a drone keeps a tanker from dropping its retardant and a class B misdemeanor for operating a drone in a restricted area. nce tankers are airborne, Ipson said, they cannot land filled with retardant, and they have had to drop their payloads away from the flames so they could land." (Read more)

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